THE DOC PRESCRIBED HERBS
Thirty percent of full-time faculty on UMDNJ's Newark campus use herbal medicine to treat or prevent their own ills, while 22 percent of those who give direct patient care recommend herbal medicines to their patients. Garlic, chamomile and echinacea are their top picks from the herbal medicine shelf. These were some of the results of a survey distributed to all full-time faculty members of UMDNJ's New Jersey Dental School (NJDS), New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) and Nursing School by Kelly Dougherty, RD, Master's thesis candidate in Clinical Nutrition at SHRP. The results were presented during her thesis defense on December 18, 1998.
According to Dougherty, 904 surveys were distributed, 463 were returned and 451 (50 percent) were complete and usable for analysis. The study examined three distinct areas: personal use, professional use and inclusion of information about herbal medicine in teaching. All three areas looked at 17 herbs Ñ burdock, chamomile, comfrey, echinacea, feverfew, garlic, ginger, gingko biloba, ginseng, goldenseal, green tea, hawthorne, milk thistle, prickly ash bark, saw palmetto, St. John's Wort and Valerian root Ñ as well as the reasons for and frequency of use. Suggested purposes were disease prevention, immune system benefits, increased energy, improved feeling of well being, symptom relief and disease treatment.
"Our hypothesis going into this project was that personal beliefs influence what one does as a professional," says thesis advisor Riva Touger-Decker, PhD, RD. "Our hypothesis was supported by the results." Touger-Decker is an assistant professor and Master's degree program director in clinical nutrition at SHRP, and a clinical assistant professor at NJDS.
The survey confirmed that those who use herbal medicines themselves were more likely to recommend them to their patients, although not necessarily the same herbs. "More than half of those who use herbal medicines recommend them to patients," says Touger-Decker.
Of those taking herbs for personal therapy, garlic, echinacea, green tea and ginger were used for disease prevention; garlic, echinacea and green tea were taken to enhance the immune system; ginseng and gingko biloba were selected for increased energy; chamomile, ginseng, green tea and St. John's Wort were used to improve feelings of well being; chamomile and echinacea were employed for symptom relief; and echinacea and garlic were utilized for disease treatment. "Garlic, chamomile and echinacea were the herbs most commonly used," comments Dougherty.
In their practices, respondents indicated they most often recommended St. John's Wort to improve feelings of well being; chamomile for symptom relief; echinacea for disease prevention, immune system benefits and symptom relief; garlic for disease prevention; and gingko for symptom relief and disease treatment.
Touger-Decker points out that the survey did not ask whether practitioners were familiar with scientific data to support their beliefs, but more than 50 percent stated that they would be interested in taking academic or continuing education courses on herbal therapies.
She says that herbal medicine use has been examined in the general population, but not in health care providers and educators. "This group is important," she states, "because they impact on the general population and shape the future of health care." According to Touger-Decker, UMDNJ's Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine was interested in learning this information before moving forward with recommendations for a university center. "Kelly took the challenge," she says. Plans for the center are moving forward.
"The objective results show we're using it, we're recommending it, and we're teaching it," she says. "Now we need to develop the research and community outreach components so UMDNJ can be a recognized resource for New Jersey regarding herbal medicine."
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey